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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

Suspense/Horror Writer Billie Sue Mosiman Talks about the Craft of Fiction

We were all greatly saddened to hear that Billie Sue Mosiman has passed. She was always supportive of so many of us in the writing community, and her work was enjoyed by readers around the world. Billie was an incredible woman, a wonderful friend, a powerful creative force, and a champion for female horror writers everywhere. This interview was originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of Suspense Magazine, shortly after her death. It's unfortunate that she never had the chance to read it in print.

 

Billie's Night Cruise was nominated for the Edgar Award and her novel Widow was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Novel. She was a prolific writer—although largely suspense/thriller novelist, she often wrote horror short stories. Billie had also been a columnist, reviewer, and writing instructor. I'm glad I had the opportunity to interview her before she passed … and hope you find the following inspiring.

 

You've been writing professional since the early '80s—more than 60 books and probably more short stories than I can count. What persuaded you to write in the first place?

 

I was always a reader and went through a lot of books as a youngster. Then one day a man in a suit came to my grandmother's house. He looked so grand I sat around listening in the living room while they spoke. I discovered he was a Dean of a University and I knew you had to be educated to do that. I was smitten by an intellectual. I thought, yes, that is what I want to be. Just like this man.

 

My family had never gone to college, but, at thirteen, I knew I would. And it would be grand. Of course, I wanted to go to learn how to be a better writer. I had faith and determination. I went to my little blue diary and wrote in it: When I grow up, I want to be a writer.

 

What authors inspired or influenced your style?

 

I loved Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jim Thompson, Bradbury, and a raft of others. It was a few years of reading before I came upon genre books and loved them too, reading each author's entire works.

 

Your work often bridges the gap between suspense and horror. A prime example, I think, is your novel Night Cruising, an Edgar Award Nominee. How much of this wedding of horror and suspense is intentional, and how much is simply "I write what I enjoy reading"?

 

The books are organic in the way they turn out. My work was always graphic and I didn't think I owed anyone anything. I was free to write the novels as they came to me. So sometimes they were called horror, but were unlike straight horror.

 

Your novel Widow was also nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. The story involves a female serial killer and a male copycat murderer, and apparently you did a lot of research for the book. You even interviewed exotic dancers. Likewise, your novel Wireman was based on true crimes in the Houston area back in the late '70s. How much research is required for your fiction? How do you go about it?

 

Sometimes it takes a lot of research. If I don't know something I won't write about it. I didn't know how detectives worked so I asked questions of another writer's chief of detectives' husband to build my own in Wireman. Some books are purely imaginary, set in places I've lived or traveled to. But if I don't know something I make sure to research it.

 

You've also been an editor, most notably of the anthology Frightmare—Women Write Horror, which also garnered a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award. You've always been a champion for female writers, especially those in the horror and suspense genres. What led you to start this particular project?

 

I saw so many anthologies on the market in horror and it always appeared to have a predominance of male writers. I have nothing against them as some are the best in the world. But where were the female writers? I knew for certain there were great women writers being ignored. I decided I'd do something for them. I'd pull together an anthology that gave them a voice. I think I was angry. I never backed down from a fight and I thought it was past time for a fight. The women came through and I was so proud. I did not add my own work. It was for them.

 

As an editor, what do you look for in a story? What gets you to "yes"?

 

If it excites me and if it catches me in the first three paragraphs. I don't like info dumps or overly wrought work or stories with no point. I'm kind of exacting about those things.

 

Your novel Moon Lake involves a lake monster, but the focus is on the teenage lead characters. Is this the closest you've come to a YA novel? If so, was this meant to attract a younger audience?

 

It was meant as an adult read, but I see how it would appeal to a teen. I'm part kid myself so I'm not surprised I end up with novels meant for a younger reader.

 

You've also written a memoir of sorts, Alabama Girl: Memoir of a Writer—Part 1. What motivated you to write your own story? Is there or will there be a "Part 2"?

 

My mother was such a towering personality in my upbringing and a disruption to the family. I had her and my dad living in my large home when they aged, but each day was like I was twelve again and my mother was the queen in my life. I don't know if I have the heart to write the second part of that book. My son, our only child at the time, died in a house fire. Other terrible things all living creatures confront happened and I just didn't think I could face writing about it. So it may never happen.

 

Do you think about marketing at all when you're in the "creative mode"?

 

Nope. I never had to do that and I can't start now. I just write stories.

 

From your perspective, how has publishing changed over the years? Where do you think it's headed?

 

Publishing has lost its way. The Amazon digital phenomenon started it. Anyone who wanted to write a book did. Those who hadn't read enough. Those who hungered for fame before they knew the rules of grammar. And so forth. We all know what happened. People got used to free digital copies. Why should they pay? Publishers, in some instances, did a rights' grab from authors then overpriced the market. The film and TV scripts have overtaken the reading of books. I weep for the whole scene and hope one day things return to normal. Normal being more than three major publishers, higher advances, more promotion, sharing digital rights with authors, and so forth.

 

We are not tradesmen. We don't make art except with words. From our minds to yours we share worlds. It's an honorary endeavor and as serious as can be. That's what I learned from the great authors who came before me. The world needs stories and novels. People need them. They may not know it, but I do. Since the caveman wrote on cave walls, we should have known now important a life of letters can be.

 

Looking back, what would you have done differently? In short, what advice would you offer a young writer following in your footsteps?

I doubt I'd done anything differently except maybe slowed down publishers who pushed me for the next book. My advice to young writers is to be true to yourself. If you like mystery writing and someone pushes horror onto you, balk, back-peddle, do anything you can to stick with what you love. Read tons of books, of all kinds. Write like a mad person. Trust your gut. And never, never give away your Life of Copyright. If someone wants to give you a million bucks for it to one of your books, trust you can get $1.2 million from some other publisher who won't steal your copyright. Besides being productive, you must be smart.

 

And, last question, what do you enjoy most about writing?

 

Being lost in the story and nothing else exists. Thinking how others feel when they read my words. 

 

 

We miss you, Billie.

 

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Mythic Structure & Storytelling

During the Writers at the Beach conference last month (and particularly during Khris Baxter's workshop, Screenwriting Techniques for Fiction Writers), I was forced into the realization that the novel I began way back in 1987 was (1) worthy of resurrection, (2) poorly structured, and (3) in need of major rewriting. (See my earlier blog entry, Writers at the Beach, 3/28/10.) In the intervening weeks since the conference, the novel has been flopping around in my brain like a fish on deck. But, the more I contemplate the story, the more frustrated I become. And the problem is clearly structure.

So, I've decided to once again read The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I've read Joseph Campbell's work on mythology, most notably the Bill Moyer interview, The Power of Myth, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's dense reading and highly academic, to be sure, but the truths concerning the importance of mythology in our lives (and our writing) are clear and illuminating.

Vogler's book, borrowing heavily not only from Campbell but also from Carl Jung's archetypes, nails down mythic structure for the writer in the most succinct and user-friendly form I've seen.  Read More 

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Writers at the Beach, 3/28/10

Well, today ended the Writers at the Beach conference for 2010. I'm crossing my fingers there will be a conference in 2011. I'd like to make this an annual event!

Only one workshop today:

Screenwriting Techniques for Fictions Writers (10:30-12:30)
Khris Baxter was the leader of this workshop, and it fit nicely with the earlier workshop of his, Building Dramatic Scenes That Work, that I took Friday morning. The session today focused on structure and how techniques used by screenwriters can be adapted when writing a novel. I was familiar with much of the material (the three-act structure, story arc, the hero's quest), but I still picked up on some key thoughts.

The main thing I took to heart was Khris's statement, "Structure is form, not formula." He's absolutely correct, and even though it may seem simplistic on the surface, I suspect this is something with which many writers (including myself) battle.

The workshop today forced me to rethink  Read More 

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Writers at the Beach, 3/27/10

The second full day of workshops was just as packed as yesterday! Here are the events I attended, again with some thoughts. (I skipped the readings scheduled 10:00-10:45.)

Want: Character and Motivation (11:00-1:15)
The workshop leader was Jami Attenberg, author of the recently released novel The Melting Season and The Kept Man. I was impressed with Jami, not only because of her advice about characterization techniques, but because she was open about the writing business, how she came into it and how she lives the life. Her insights about writing were illuminating.

Jami had us do two writing exercises. I never write well in those situations (“Take 15 minutes to write about this scenario about this character”); I need time to think about the angles on an idea before it gels enough for me to write anything worthwhile. But I was amazed at the quality of work the other participants were able to create in short time!

A couple of things she said rings true to me.  Read More 

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What You (probably don't) Know

I attempted to catch up on my magazine reading this past weekend. I came across an interview with Brad Thor, author of The Last Patriot and other thrillers, in the December 2008 issue of Writer's Digest. (Yes, I'm very behind on my reading!) Near the end of the interview, Thor said, "'Write what you know' is the worst piece of advice you'll ever hear as a writer. If people only wrote what they knew, we never would've had a Ray Bradbury; we never would've had a J.K. Rowling."

I see Thor's point. I'm sure Jules Verne never journeyed to the center of the Earth, traveled around the planet in 80 days, dove 20,000 leagues under the sea, or hopped a rocket to the moon. Yet Verne certainly wrote classic novels on each of those topics.

But I also think Thor's statement is too simplistic.
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